Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Star Trek VI: 25 Years Of The Undiscovered Country

            Star Trek stood by itself 30 years ago. There was only one Star Trek,with one cast of characters. Then a year later, Star Trek: The Next Generation came along. During seasons 4 and 5 of that show,Star Trek as a whole celebrated its 25th anniversary.1991 was also the year where I went to my Star Trek convention-the only one my area ever put on,met actress Nichelle Nichols and got a chance to go to the theaters to see my second Star Trek movie on the big screen. That movie was Star Trek VI:The Undiscovered Country. Whats interesting about today is that this movie itself is now currently experiencing its own 25th anniversary.

                The Undiscovered Country was announced amid a rumor mill that I'd heard play out at a local comic store called The Wizards Den.  One thing that was known about the film was that it was going to be the final film to feature the entirety of the original Star Trek cast. Another story (which thankfully turned out to be total rumor) was that the entire original crew of the Enterprise would be killed off in the film. As with most Star Trek films made after 1984,the films production had an air of secrecy. There were a few things I did now based on info included in the Star Trek 25th anniversary special.

                  Those two realities of the film were that The Undiscovered Country would involve Klingon's. And that it would be a who dunnit. That turned out to be something of an understatement. The story involves a reluctant James T Kirk (and the crew of the Enterprise) being accused of attacking a Klingon vessel (and murdering Chancellor Gorkon,who was on board) at the dawn of peace negotiations following due to a disaster crippling the Klingon's energy resources. Solving this mystery unravels a conspiracy within both the Federation and Klingon empires by those who'd stand to lose from such a peace between the two societies.

                   Star Trek has always functioned best as sci fi social allegory paralleling current events on Earth within its universe. The Undiscovered Country's plot about a Klingon energy production facility called Praxis exploding and the need for a mutually beneficial peace paralleled the relationship between America and the Perestroika era USSR following the Chernobyl disaster. Director Nicholas Meyer had a big role in this element of the story. Using the character of General Chang (played by Christopher Plummer),he inserted his love of Shakespeare by including elements of The Bard's Hamlet into the story. That includes the title of the film itself.

                      One thing that enhances the films story is the memorable characters. Even ones who were only to appear in the film. A young Kim Cattrall appears as the Vulcan Lieutenant Valeris. Her interactions with Spock and the crew during their investigation of the Klingon/Federation conspiracy make her so endearing and memorable,one might be sad she winds up the villain of the piece. Still though,a villain of some complexity. Same goes for Christopher Plummer as the pompous General Chang. Iman makes an appearance as the clever and treacherous shape shifter Martia. Who actually provides Kirk with an interesting (if brief) prison love scene on the icy penal colony of Rura Penthe.

                        James Kirk himself is a major plot point during this film. Spock volunteers him for a mission to meet Chancellor Gorkon's ship as an escort to a peace conference. The humorous send up is Spock quoting the Vulcan proverb that says "only Nixon could go to China". Kirk is presented as a man who distrusts Klingon's due to the death of his son. The behavior of the racially diverse crew members of the Enterprise during an awkward state dinner with the Klingon's  indicates that,while humanity has solved its own issues with bigotry,that they would still need to take time to deal with alien races with very different values and cultural traits than humanity.

                         Michael Dorn,who portrayed Worf in Star Trek The Next Generation also appeared in the film as his characters grandfather. This character was an attorney pressed into service to defend Kirk and Dr.McCoy during their murder trial on the Klingon home world of Kronos,which actually gets its official name in this movie. Also,this is also the first Star Trek to feature any characters dealing with problems associated with zero gravity. After the attack on Gorkon's ship,the gravity is knocked out. And this provides an opportunity to set up the assassination plot that characterizes the film.

                           In the end,I view this as one of the original Star Trek films that got everything completely right. It had memorable side characters,plenty of what the late DeForest Kelly referred to as "Star Trek moments" relating to its type of humor,very magisterial action sequences filled with manic Shakespeare quotations and (most importantly to me,anyway) some of the best and most topical senses of social commentary in a Star Trek film. At the end of the day,its about the contrivances some will create in the face of their fears of change. And that comes together to make this one of Star Trek's finest theatrical moments.